Zaire is, arguably, the quintessential reflection of the current malaise affecting Africa. In Mobutu`s vast empire, many of the symptoms are reflected – from corruption, nepotism and kleptocracy, to ethnic conflict and an absence of democracy; from economic stagnation and environmental degradation, to foreign intervention. It is thus important to understand the unfolding crisis in the Zairian state: as a microcosm reflecting the larger continent`s problems, understanding Zaire means understanding Africa.
There is also a more pressing reason to analyse the situation in Zaire. Zaire is potentially sub- Saharan Africa`s superstate, covering a total area of 2 345 410 square kilometres. It shares its land boundaries of 10 271 kilometres with eight states: Angola (2 511 km); Burundi (233 km); the Central African Republic (1 577km); the Congo (2 410 km); Rwanda (217 km); Sudan (628 km); Uganda (765 km); and Zambia (1 930 km).
The spillover effects of the conflict in Zaire could potentially affect the entire region. Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia are already home to thousands of Zairian refugees fleeing from this war-torn land. The trickle could turn into a flood of humanity if the situation worsens in Zaire. This, in turn, has adverse implications for regional stability.
This paper is divided into three sections. The first seeks to explore briefly the roots of the present conflict in Zaire. Next, an assessment is made of the possible future trajectory of the conflict. The third, and main thrust of the paper, aims to reflect on some of the lessons learned from the Zairian crisis.
Hussein Solomon, Senior Researcher, Regional Security, Institute for Security Studies